Lost in Transplantation

Harvesting Organs from Executed Prisoners

MABLE WU didn’t pay any attention to her medical specialist’s concerns. This 69-year old lady from Northridge, a quiet suburb in Los Angeles, traveled against her doctor’s advice to the booming South China city of Dongguan in Guangzhou province. She was going to buy a new kidney for $40,000.

Soon after her arrival, she was told that the donor of the kidney was a 30-year old man. There were another four patients at the Dongguan hospital, all from Taiwan, who already had their kidney transplant. Wu returned to California after the transplant, happy with the new kidney.

Chinese hospitals gloat without feeling embarrassed about their extravagant services. One reads on the official website of China’s International Organ Transplant Center, “If you are inquiring about an organ, please transfer $5,000. It will take no more than a week to find a suitable donor for you most of the time, once we confirm receipt of the funds, and at the most only one month.”

The $5,000 is only the down payment. One can expect at least 30,000 Euro for a kidney, 70,000 Euro for a liver, and a heart is 140,000 Euro—quite a bit more expensive.

The patients are told under complete secrecy that the organ donors are mostly executed prisoners, who are still alive at the time the recipient arrives in China. At the same time, the Chinese contacts brag about their bizarre practice: “We do not remove organs from humans who are brain dead, because that would affect the condition of the organ.”

Lately, the highest-level Chinese entities confirm that prisons and concentration camps are used to store human parts. Juang Jeifu, the Deputy Minister of Health, admitted last year, “Besides a very few accident victims, most of the organs come from executed prisoners.” He said that those organ donors have “agreed” beforehand to be organ donors.David Matas and David

Kilgour are quite certain that this is far from the truth. Matas, a noted Canadian human rights attorney and Kilgour, the former Secretary at the Canadian Foreign Ministry, have painstakingly investigated Chinese organ harvesting practices, and disclosed details in a report that has caused quite a stir.

The two arrived at the following: During the past six years, China’s transplant enterprise, which scarcely existed before that time, has taken a lucrative upswing. Most notably, the non-transparent transplant business began to boom after the massive repression of Falun Gong adherents—the practitioners of an esoteric sect, which Chinese officials persecute cruelly.

According to Matas and Kilgour, “several hundreds” of ill people travel to China annually for an organ transplant that is necessary for survival.

The evidence presented thus far by the two is so tight that even the United Nations has demanded a formal investigation. Manfred Nowak, a human rights lawyer from Vienna and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment, gave the Chinese regime a deadline to come clean concerning the allegations.

The issue is “definitely a case that requires investigation,” as much of the evidence points out that “humans are executed who had not even been convicted of anything, and are killed for their organs,” he says.

In plain language: Sick people from the U.S., Canada, Saudi Arabia and many other countries are the reason people in China are executed—people who most likely would never have been executed were there no demand for organs.

There are many more executions in China than in any other country worldwide. It is unknown just how many are executed. Official numbers are not available. But a moderate guess is that there are 1,700 executions yearly. There were over 60,000 organ transplants during the past six years. Even if each candidate for execution were to be the donor of more than one organ, the executions would not even come close to the number of actual transplants performed over those years. This raises the suspicion that besides the “regular” executions, people are being murdered solely for their organs—to satisfy market demand.

The reason for this explosive demand is naturally the shortage of donor organs worldwide—though the demand is in some countries more dramatic than in others. Those who are waiting for a heart or an organ, but must wait in line in one’s home country and might not receive one, thus have to rely on China’s execution system.

Manfred Nowak’s office is on the fourth floor of the Schottenstift, a peaceful corner in Vienna’s first district. The Ludwig-Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights just moved there and Nowak sits there as he goes through his correspondence with the Chinese officials.

“The marketplace demands cheap organs and looks for bargains,” said the UN Rapporteur. From a moral standpoint, it sounds rather awful. “But, the accusations against China are a totally different issue. In this case, the market mechanics are coinciding with a state sanctioned suppression mechanism.”

The market, authoritarianism, and global disparities—a fatal mix.

Novak looks disbelievingly at one of the letters from the Chinese regime where they categorically deny the accusation. It’s all of two pages long.

“This is just not enough,” says Novak. “The evidence documented in the Canadian Matas-Kilgour report is much too sound [for such as short response].”

From time to time one’s breath stops when reading the report. Chinese members of the Matas-Kilgour research team called hospitals in China and identified themselves as potential clients. When asked for the availability of young and healthy organs from Falun Gong adherents, the medical head of one transplant team replied, “Yes, they are generally available to us.”

The next question by the researchers, “And what about now?” was answered with “Yes.”

Another surgeon suggested to the pretend-patient that she should approach Guangzhou’s hospitals.

“Could you find organs from Falun Gong practitioners?” “Correct” is the answer.

Next question: “Is the organ from a healthy Falun Gong practitioner?” The answer, “Correct. We will choose only a good one, because we guarantee the quality of our transplants.”

Another question, “Usually, how old are the organ suppliers?” was answered with “In their thirties.”

Client and supplier discussions such as the above are commonplace where a market system and a state-sanctioned repressive apparatus commit to a macabre relationship. In China the clinics advertise without any shame the perfect cooperation between medical people, government, and “the courts.” The old banners with the communist rallying cry that hang outside the hospitals look like a sick joke.

One of the slogans that waves in the wind reads, “Keep humans in the most important place.”

Robert Misik is an award-winning author and political commentator based in Vienna. This article is an abridgement of the original, which was published in German on March 12, 2007.